Belfast Telegraph

The future's bright, the future's in exporting

By David Elliott

When the chips are down it seems we turn to what we know best. Northern Ireland's farmers and food producers have for years been top of the class when it comes to producing meat, milk and vegetables but since the hard times have started to bite, it would seem the sector has listened to the old mantra of 'add value for profit'.

It's ironic that in times of woe the agri-food industry here has been ploughing a deep and frankly match-winning furrow by producing products that take those basic commodities, process them and sell them at a higher price and hopefully at a profit. In the boom times that's hard enough but in the backwards economic situation we've all been working in it's frankly amazing.

A walk around the Celebration of Success event in the Europa hotel yesterday provided a taste of both the companies and the products which were such a success at fine food awards across the UK and Ireland.

It would seem there are very few foods we haven't mastered, from ice cream to rapeseed oil, coffee roasting to beer brewing and there are very few regions around the globe where we're not making our presence known.

One particularly outlandish exporting success is that of Suki tea which is exporting its fine wares to China. Tea to China? Next we'll find a coal seam and start running boatloads to Newcastle.

Maybe not but Asia is obviously a region of great potential and one which is being targeted strongly by our native entrepreneurs.

Next month the Chinese will also have to deal with an ensemble of our political leaders who are heading to the country to join an Invest NI trade mission for a whirlwind tour to promote all that is good about Northern Ireland's goods and services.

And only yesterday a couple of Australian entrepreneurs were here in Northern Ireland trying to get us to help supply the massive demand emanating from that country.

We should explore these and the rest of the globe for export opportunities because although the economy here is starting to look a little perkier, we'll need every opportunity we can to get back up to full speed.

It's obvious we'll not get back to the way we were in the boom times, when credit flowed cheaply and freely and the property market registered double digit growth every day, but that's probably not a bad thing.

The new norm is already starting to look a little different with our strongest sector emerging from the likes of the food and IT industries which before we had perhaps brushed under the carpet.

It's driving these new engine room sectors forward, finding new ones we can excel in and tending to the likes of the injured construction sector that we should be focusing on in the coming months and years.

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